From Sapper to Flying Squadron

 P07219.001 20 Alexander Finnie

 20 Alexander Finnie

20 Alexander Finnie was a 21 year old sheet metal worker and was employed by the Randwick Tramway department. His proud parents living at Botany were Alexander James and Ida Jane (nee Bullock).  Alexander also had an older sister who unfortunately died in 1911.

Alex served almost 3 years in the 1st Field Company Engineers and had a long stay at Gallipoli up to the 18th August.  A near miss from a shell blast and gas poisoning meant that he was transferred to hospital in Alexandria, quite sick and suffering from deafness. Like many others Alex was keen to recover and get back into the fray, and he did, but this time he would do it from the sky as a flying officer.
Alex had transferred to Flying school in England and graduated as a flying officer and was appointed 2nd Lieut and posted to the Australian Flying Corp. Now wearing his wings he proceeded overseas to France and reported for duty with the No 4 Squadron AFC, the last squadron to be formed during the first World War.
The 4th Squadron had arrived in France in December 1917 and established itself at Bruay France and operated in support of the British 1st Army, undertaking offensive patrols and escorting reconnaissance machines.


Sopwith Camels No 4 Squadron AFC -France 24 March 1918 – AWM

Towards the end of February 1918 the squadron was made up of 24 flying machines, considerably enhancing its capacity for offensive operations.
March 1918 saw an increase in the 4th squadron’s ground attacks and offensive patrols, including a notable engagement with elements of Manfred von Richthofen’s “Flying Circus” on 21 March, during which five enemy machines were downed in an attack led by Captain Arthur Henry Cobby , who would become the  AFC’s number one flying ace .

No. 4 Squadron claimed more “kills” than any other AFC unit, 199 enemy aircraft destroyed and 33 enemy balloons were destroyed or driven down.



Cpt Arthur Henry Cobby – DSO, DFC


In May of 1918 the Squadron had moved from Bruay to Clairmarais North and the 4th squadron was heavily involved in strafing and bombing operations in support of the retreating Allied ground forces.
On the 22nd May 1918 Lieut. Finnie was on his usual offensive and balloon patrol in his Sopwith Camel No. D1924. Enemy observation balloons were stationed thousands of feet in the air and tethered to the ground and fearcly protected by machine guns and anti-aircraft artillery known as “Archie”.
Even with incendiary bullets the gas in the balloons was hard to ignite and downing a balloon took a lot of shooting while running a gauntlet of ground-fire and keeping a sharp eye out for enemy scouts trying to protect the balloons.
On this day while diving and firing on enemy balloons Lieut. Alex Finnie collided with fellow flyer Lieut.G Nowland. They both spun to the ground five miles over enemy lines, their planes falling to pieces as they crashed to the ground at Neuf Berquin and both men were killed.

The following eye witness accounts describe the action that saw Alexander Finnie meet his end.
“ We were firing on enemy balloons. I was flying with him and saw him go down. He collided with another chap and they both fell from about 10,000 ft over the German lines. I should certainly say there was little hope of his being alive. I wrote to his people.”
Informant – F/Lieut R.C Nelson 4th Squadron A.F.C
“I knew Lieutenant Finnie in the Squadron. I saw him killed on the 22nd May 1918. The Squadron was then engaged in an offensive patrol near Estaires. I saw Lieutenant Finnie and Lieutenant Nowland attack a German captive balloon. Their machines collided and Lieutenant Finnie’s machine fell. “
Informant – Captain Roy King 4th Squadron A.F.C

Alex Finnie flight record
Alexander Finnie’s last flight record.


nla obituary


Alexander’s father was notified in 1921  that his son Alex Finnie was exhumed and later reburied in an Imperial War grave at Pont-du-Hem Military Cemetery (Plot II, Row F, Grave No. 19), La Gorque, France.



Pont-du-Hem  Military Cemetery La Gorque France


Alexander’s page is now available and will continue to be updated ……………………….read more – clink on this link



The Extraordinary Mr.Banks

Edmond Clifford Banks -nla.pic-vn3723151-v
Edmond Clifford Banks -nla.pic-vn3723151-v

14 Edmond Clifford Banks  

Medaille Militaire
Medaille Militaire


– by Vance Kelly –

As the war progressed after Gallipoli, there were opportunities for many of the engineers beyond being a sapper or a driver. Officer training and the chance of being a commissioned officer, returning to England to train reinforcements, and then there was the newly formed Australian Flying Squadron.

Four particular sappers later joined the Australian Flying Squadron and some became flyers and it was not by chance. The four men were connected , 14 sapper Edmond Clifford Banks and 110 Gordon Campbell Wilson were together at the assault at the German officers trench at Gallipoli.

26 Roland King  was vice to Edmond Banks at Fromelle and 20 Alexander Finnie also a low number was likely in the same section or even shared the same tent at Moore Park.
It is very possible 14 Banks, 20 Finnie and 26 King as their low numbers suggest, were placed together in the same section in the early training days back in Sydney, and as a result became closest of friends . Their friendships definitely influenced the four of them to pursue new challenges beyond sapping. ….
What made them become flyers ? While at Gallipoli , did they marvel at the site of these flying machines overhead and often contemplate what it must be like to be in the sky and not it in a dug out starving , dodging disease, shrapnel and snipers.
These original sappers seemed to have a unique view on the war and each of them after extreme service at Gallipoli and the western front displayed an insatiable thirst for even more from the challenges of war.
14 Edmond Clifford Banks was unstoppable. He was just 19 years old when he enlisted, a surveyor from Darlinghurst Sydney. He was with the landing party on the 25th April, and was heavily involved with Lieut. Henry Bachtold,  on the stunt at the German officers and snipers trenches on the 6th August.
Edmond Bank’s service record up to this time was perfect and he continued to demonstrate his total commitment throughout the rest of the war. Young Edmond received Mention in Despatches for his service from the 25th April to the 17th Dec and displaying gallantry .


Bronze Oak Leaf  presented  to those Mentioned in Despatches
Bronze Oak Leaf presented to those Mentioned in Despatches

After Gallipoli Edmond was transferred to the 14th Field Co. Engineers now under the command of Major Henry Bachtold and embarked for France in July 1916 and was promoted to Sergeant. He was at the historic battle of Fromelles on the night of the 19th July 1916. On this disastrous night in Australia’s military history, the following is an account of his actions.
“On the night of July 19th/20th in the operations at FROMELLES Sergt. Banks under very heavy shell fire pegged out a communication trench in “No Man’s Land” and extended a working party on the work. Although under continuous shell and machine gun fire the whole of the night, he supervised the work until the trench was completed. The successful completion was due to his bravery and devotion to duty”.Source: AWM

Banks was unstoppable and a few months later,

“On the night of the of Nov. 5/6th 1916 in connection with the operations of the 7th Infantry Brigade on the SOMME he successfully commanded his section on this officer becoming a casualty and under heavy shell fire carried out the given orders to his section.” Source: AWM

For these acts of outstanding bravery young Edmond Banks was awarded the French Medaille Militaire for distinguished service. His medal was presented to him on 13th April 1917 by Lieut- General Birdwood.
Edmond had served with extraordinary commitment for just over a year at the front , and his stunts on the ground were over. Edmond was not satisfied with fighting the war on the ground and he set his sights on fighting the Germans from the sky. The newly formed Australian Flying Corp was just the ticket for Edmond . And so it was on the 25th May 1917 Edmond was transferred and joined the No.1 Royal Flying Corps training school at Reading England and after 2 months training graduated as an observer in the flying corp and was appointed 2nd Lieut . and reported for duty in France.
In August of 1918 after serving with the 3rd Australian Flying Squadron , the same Squadron involved in the action leading to the death of the German air ace the Red Baron Manfred von Richthofen, he returns to Reading England for training as a Flying officer, and finally becomes a pilot. He was now the grand old age of 23.
During these eventful years at war, Edmond was sick for only a few months in May and June of 1918. Not someone who was use to lying around and doing nothing, Edmond somehow found time between all these achievements to fall in love and he married Frances Ann Richards, from Dublin Ireland. A few months later in November 1918 the war was over and the adventure was over for young Edmond.

14 Edmond Banks - Back Row 2nd from left AWM E02765
14 Edmond Banks – Back Row 2nd from left AWM E02765


Edmond  was an extraordinary young man and proved his bravery and strength over an exhausting 4 – 5 years. Young Edmond embraced his duty and his role as a sapper, then as a leader of men, a pilot, and finally a married man. Edmond had not just been on the great adventure….. he was the great adventure.

Copyright© VanceKelly2015


Sources: AWM, NAA, NLA

Photo courtesy of National Library of Australia